Categories
Diabetes Health Journal

Time to Get A Move On It?

I’ve been trying to deny it, but I’ve been feeling exceptionally cruddy these last few days. My boss informed me that one day of my classes will most likely be shut down, and that more days might follow, eventually maybe even this entire branch of the school itself. After eight years of very dedicated work here it feels like quite a letdown, especially because the boss has been getting on all the teacher’s cases about “doing their best” for the school and the students. That’s exactly what I did… but when push came to shove, I’m given one week’s notice.

I simply can’t make ends meet like this. With all the other worries I have I also can’t afford yet more sticks piled onto the camel’s back. I’m feeling shaky enough as it is.

Big intake of breath, big, big exhale. Everything’s going to be all right. Everything’s going to be all right.

Yeah, that’s what I said when I found out I had diabetes. I’ve since learned that everything is not always going to be all right.

And maybe that’s part of the crux of the problem. I’ve lost the innocence and confidence in my own ability to keep myself safe in the world. When my heart skips a beat at night I wake up terrified that my body has abandoned me. When there’s an earthquake now I shake in my bones, fearful that this is the one. The thunder storms I used to love so much when I was younger now flash moments of terror in the back of my watching mind. At times, when my blood sugar is high, I start up some train station steps only to feel my mind loosened and reeling, and I wonder if I will be able to make it up the stairs. And whenever I sit waiting in the hospital lounge in my monthly visits to the diabetes center and watch one of the blind or amputees or patients headed for the dialysis machine my eyes are wide with sympathy and horror; that could very well be me there.

When did my faith in my own existence erode so badly? And how does one gain back the confidence and surety of waking up in the morning? I pick up a book on diabetes and the statistics unnerve me:

1) People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to suffer heart attack than those without.
2) People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to suffer a stroke as those without.
3) People with diabetes are 20 times more likely to go blind than those without.
4) People with diabetes are 40 times more likely to suffer kidney failure than those without.”
*
5) People with diabetes are highly likely to suffer debilitating nerve damage, that can cause all of the problems above.

*Quoted from “The Mind-Body Diabetes Revolution” by Richard S. Surwit

Fun reading! It’s like a benign old librarian smiling and quoting simple figures for your trivia enjoyment… all the while a monster standing in disguise beneath her petticoats.

There’s nothing really special about this news; after all we are all scheduled for time in the Cold Room, but there is such a difference in knowing that the cogs and pipes and governors have loosened and jumped track, right here in your own backyard.

When I first saw the movie “Philadelphia” when it first came out over ten years ago, before diabetes sought me out, it moved me and stuck with me, but last night when I again watched Tom Hanks emerge from Denzel Washington’s office after being rejected and the look on Hanks’ face of knowing that his body had given him a legacy of hopelessness, I knew to my bones what he was feeling.

Two months ago my aunt died from diabetes complications. I wasn’t able to get time off to make it to the States to hold her hand before she died and give her whatever courage one diabetic could give to another. Afterwards an ocean of confusion overtook me, partly laden with waves of sorrow at the death of someone I loved dearly, partly awash with immense paranoia that I, too, wasn’t going to make it for much longer. The following week, when my doctor, who has an infuriating habit of talking on her cell phone during our consultations, again answered some call, I blew up and accused her of being unprofessional and not knowing what she was doing and of letting me slowly drift out to sea. Seven years of silence erupted. I am so scared and feel so helpless. And yet I can’t talk about it with anyone I know; the burden would be incomprehensible to them. Too often they brush off the mutters of low-blood sugar fears and days of bad coordination due to neuropathy or the unprovoked, high-blood sugar episodes when even the way a slip of paper might oscillate in a breeze sets me off ranting and shouting for no apparent reason. My father took me to task for “the chip on my shoulder”.

But they’re not to blame. They just don’t know. They don’t have this awful face staring at them day in and day out. Diabetes seems so benign and innocent… after all most diabetics are walking around as if nothing is wrong. They look fine and seem to do just about the same things as anyone else. It is just not apparent that the vision is blurred or that the ringing is constant and loud in the ear or that the feet hurt badly or a morning cramp so clenched the calf muscle that walking is difficult or that the drowsiness just won’t go away, no matter how much coffee you drink or exercise you do. It is silent, like a scalpel.

But my words are defeatist. It’s no joke that everyone is going to die. We all carry that. So I guess the only thing for it is to make best use of what I have and try to live as best I can.

Maybe losing the job is a good thing. After all I’ve long been talking about my need to make a big change in my life. I’ve always believed that you don’t get what you want out of life, but you always do get what you need. In the end what is really important is with just how much grace you can fit inside this tumbling world and how much meaning you can stoke out of the embers into the flickering flame of your life.

Categories
America: Society Iraq War Journal Musings

The Ugly Little Man in the Closet

American tortureI had to remind myself today why it is that Bush cuts so deeply into my soul. It felt as if I had almost forgotten. The zoetrope of news images, flickering by so quickly that one outrage blends into another cause the colors to mash into a sickly brown that no longer has any distinction. If you look back on the last four years, though, you have to ask how it is possible that so many American people could have systematically and so quickly forgotten something as stark and irrefutable (yes, I know nothing is irrefutable in political spin) as the torture in Abu Ghraib. It is as if nothing happened. No one of any consequence was held accountable. Like oily slivers of rope the leaders most responsible slipped away into forgetfulness, like so many other things they slipped out of. If you are at all a decent human being and sincerely believe in all the hype about American ideals and greatness how can you possibly turn your eyes away from this, or to even let it sink into oblivion, and then smugly go ahead and vote for the people most responsible for it?

I visited The Memory Hole again and sat for a long, long time whispering prayers to myself and for the victims in the pictures. I couldn’t turn on the news for fear of being presented with those images of Bush and his wife strolling about like royalty. I wanted to be sure that I was grounded in the reality of my outrage for Bush and to keep reminding myself why I can’t loosen my grip on the armrest. So many people tell me to relax and not let these things bother me, because there is nothing I can do about it. I just wish there had been someone there to tell that to people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Geronimo, Chief Joseph, or Aung San Suu Kyi, or even Jesus Christ.

As a non-American living far away on the other side of the world the elections were more of a sticker shock value than a potential reordering of the universe. It was sobering and enlightening to report to work earlier this evening and have not one of my Japanese co-workers so much as mention the elections. It was sobering because the true place that America has in the world and in the hearts of people around the world was made abundantly clear: America figures not much in most people’s lives and the elections were nothing more than an enormous fiasco of people blathering to themselves. My sense, in the Japanese silence, was that Americans tend to take themselves entirely too seriously, raising themselves upon media pedestals all out of proportion to the honest reception that most people in the world are willing to give them. “Yeah? So what is new,” could have been the reaction here. It was simply perplexing to see this glittering pageant, like some kind of coronation, over-running the airwaves. Let no one say that the Americans have abandoned the monarchy or subservience to the overlord.

Perhaps it is the very desire to find conflict in every little discussion or statement that twirls Americans around with such contention. Even blogs, like this one, seem to survive on contrasts, and little stories behind the back. The entire Bush strategy resides within a bubble of inflated fear and controversy. In this climate it will always remain impossible for communities to flourish and nurture one another, or for diversity to strew an odd mix of seeds among the roots.

Let no one forget Abu Ghraib. Let no one render it merely an anecdote or a behavioral anomaly. When you find yourself wavering in the effort to nurture peace and understanding, or grow weary of the unrelenting madness of Bush, go back to the pictures of the tortures and remember how it all started. That should jump start the old cables and fire up that engine again.

Categories
Diabetes Health Journal

Skirting the Border

Herrenhausen Fountain
The Great Fountain in the Herrenhausen Gardens in Hannover, Germany, my hometown, 1984.

One thing about having diabetes is that it does a good job of reminding you about the fragility of your life. Aside from the daily struggle with manually maintaining that metabolic balance that most people take for granted because it is automatic for them, just the sight of the insulin needle four times a day or the countdown of the blood sugar meter as it measures the level of sweetness in your heart, or even the waves of numbness and pain that ebb and flow with the tides of your body’s mood swings, can sometimes stop you short when you realize that what you are doing is gauging and resetting an hidden clock. And the clock keeps ticking, regardless of whether you want to set the snooze button or not.

Once a month I must haul myself over to the hospital to have my extremities jabbed and poked and probed, internal juices sampled, irises dilated and retinas blinded, veins pressed and released, substantiality of bodily presence in this world weighed, and rude questions posed about such private matters as what I ate for breakfast or how often I visited the toilet. It is like a reckoning; the Lord of Life and Death beckoning, to sit observing me while I bleed. Every time, about a week before the appointment, a cloud of guilt envelopes me, tightening my arteries and causing the banging of my heart to ring loud in my head. Was I good? Did I live up to what the doctor expected? Would all those other patients sitting in the lined up benches in the waiting lounge, expecting their names to be called next, notice that I hadn’t done my exercise or that I had eaten a MacDonald’s hamburger, or spent too many stressful hours at the computer screen? Would I somehow be punished?

There are times when the hours pass at the hospital and I watch the other patients who are my silent peers in this frightful contract. All kinds of people sit facing the blinking appointments monitor, little children in strollers, young women with their knees pressed together and shoulders hunched, old men gazing about bewildered, and overweight businessmen who fold their arms and shake one knee, still defying vulnerability. If I stare alert and don’t allow myself to slip into the stupor that the stuffy air ought to cause, I see the shadows hovering behind these people, claiming them. One afternoon an old man who had lost his eyesight recently stood ramrod still in one corner of the lobby while his wife carried out the responsibilities of getting him through the check up. He stood as if facing me, his eyes hidden by dark sunglasses. It was disconcerting because he almost seemed to face me directly, but his eyes seemed to face away just off to the side. As I sat gazing at him more and more the sink hole of empathy shuddered through me as I came to understand that he could be me, especially if I don’t take care of myself. The prospect of losing my eyesight, a very real and common verdict for people with diabetes (I hate the word “diabetics”, as if we are some kind of pariah or an impersonation of the disease itself), knocked me over the head and shook me awake. And this kind of awakening happens every time I go to the hospital; just yesterday a trio of elderly women sat beside me discussing their diabetes, like gossip over the garden wall. One of them said, with a finality that hushed them all up, “You really have to be careful. If you lose your eyesight then you’re really in trouble. I mean really in trouble!”

All this may sound macabre and morose, but in actuality it keeps you on your toes. Almost every person with diabetes that I’ve met who manages a well-balanced control of their blood sugar, gets regular exercise, and has stress lowered, seems to be correspondingly energetic and cheerful. Just look at the famous people with diabetes: Halle Berry, Mary Tyler Moore, Jerry Mathers of “Leave It To Beaver”… they all project this. Perhaps it has something partly to do with daily turning around and facing the possibility of death and not running away. It is like a Buddhist koan, an intimate comprehension of the ending of things right there a finger’s breadth away. And with the recognition of this ending, a converse eye opening to the breath of life. You can’t help but live awake and full if you face the reality of being snuffed out. Diabetes helps to remind you that, as Buckminster Fuller mused, “I seem to be a verb”. This body, doing all these unconventional misdemeanors, occupies space as a swarm of ideas, even the sensation of physicality but a synapse of one idea relating its theorem to another idea. Sitting in the midst of that swarm is the globule of the self, like an astronaut, drifting like light through the aether. You have to harness the gist of who you are and feed it with reminders of its own ephemerality, to rein it in and determine how the life you have been given, but a mere gesture, is to be lived. Reminders, although they can be scary, are good. They scoot the pebble across the pavement.

On the twenty minute walk from Shin Okubo station near the hospital to the hospital, I often pass a wizened old homeless woman huddled on the sidewalk. She never looks up and usually barely moves. Her clothes and skin are always dark with filth and drool often slips down the side of her lips. One time I found her passed out on the verge of the street, cars passing just an arm’s length away from her head. No one passing by made a move to help her. Since there was a police box a minute away I ran over there and told the officer in charge about the old woman. He laughed, as if she was a common problem, and told me that he would send someone over. I wrestled with going back to see that she was taken care of or rushing on to my hospital appointment. I decided to get to the hospital appointment, but to this day I feel I missed an opportunity of squarely facing life, of relating my experiences in the hospital and with the quirks of diabetes to the reality of a little old woman whose inability to rise to the challenge of her daily brushes with death. It is a bridge that crosses a vast, but incremental gap; and if I can but cross that bridge I will have discovered the very justification for such a disease as diabetes.

Categories
Japan: Living Journal Life In

Fear of Jiggling

Light and Storm
Storm descending upon a mountain pass, Yatsugatake, Japan, 2003

For the second time in two days the giant catfish upon whose back the inhabitants of Japan live (as the old tales tell) shivered with the deepening cold, and set our teeth on edge as walls prepared to turn to jelly and the floor jumped like the hide of a scratching dog. Today’s tremor was but an afterthought, but yesterday, as I lay down for a short nap before going to my night work, the world bucked up around me for a violent blink of an eye. I leaped out of bed, heart thundering, and so dumb that all I could urge my hippocampus to respond to was to pull on a pair of baggy pants and scurry, illogically, into the bathroom. I stood there staring blankly at the toilet cell’s door (toilets are always separate from the bath room in Japan) until it occurred to me that the earthquake had already stopped. It only registered then that I had had no time at all to even react in a thoughtful manner, which is my usual reaction to most earthquakes.

For anyone who has never experienced an earthquake, well, let me tell you, there are few things that can make you feel smaller or more helpless. Yesterday’s earthquake was a “vertical shaker”, as opposed to a “horizontal shaker”. In the conventional wisdom a horizontal shaker is the norm and usually means that the world is only receiving an adjustment to the television screen. A vertical shaker, however, hits suddenly and very violently, and often magnifies into a major catastrophe, such as the Kobe earthquake in 1995. To describe what such an earthquake is like, imagine standing in a subway or highway tunnel with your back turned toward the oncoming train or truck. Then imagine that that train is speeding toward you from below, accompanied by a fast approaching groan of great thunder. Put this together with that disconcerting uncertainty that you feel in your feet when a huge truck bumps over the road and makes the ground tremor, but magnify it a thousand times. And behind it all imagine that pervading rumble that accompanied Darth Vader as he strode about the Imperial Starship. Then, to make it really scary, imagine the whole world suddenly heaving up all around you in one, giant punch. All you can think of is names like God, Godzilla, King Kong, Atlas, Shiva, or Giant Killer Tomatoes…